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ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Service-oriented architecture (SOA) is a term much bandied about these days, along with its close relatives XML, Microsoft .NET and Web services. But what is SOA? “SOA is a software architectural style based on loose coupling among software agents that interact,” is how it’s defined by David Turner, chief information officer with IntegraSys in Frisco, Texas. Turner also describes SOA this way: “You have the consumer of the service, somebody who wants a function performed. And you have the provider of that service. SOA is the integration piece that facilitates the action between them.” Meanwhile, communications standards and tools like XML, Web services and Microsoft .NET are the connecting pieces that make SOA happen. To Gary Hinrichs, president of $82 million West Community Credit Union in St. Charles, SOA is a perhaps bit of technical talk which really means “that you can go out and get the best of breed, the best product, and you aren’t limited to what the core processor brings to the table.” Hinrichs, a 31-year-veteran of his own CU, knows something about working with his core processor. He’s the current president of the Premier Users Group and his credit union has been a client of IntegraSys and predecessors, including EDS and the Missouri Credit Union League, for more than 20 years. “We want to be able to make it simple to do our jobs on the retail side, that’s what SOA means to me,” Hinrichs says. “During the year, the 15 or so of us credit unions in the users group meet a couple times and stay in touch with conference calls and come up with the list of wild and crazy things we’d like to do in the coming year with our core systems. “Then IntegraSys comes back with a look at how much it’ll take to do these projects and we have to choose between them. To their credit, they integrated a lot of our input into the new Premier system.” West Community currently is involved in upgrading to Premier New Generation, one of 100 clients on the new service-oriented architecture version of that core processing system. Meanwhile, 67 credit unions are now using SOA through the other IntegraSys platform, CubicsPlus, with another 53 scheduled by the end of the year, the Fiserv unit says. “The real key to service-oriented architecture is that we like to talk about how the interfaces are now loosely coupled, and the provider and the customer don’t have to have a lot of knowledge of each other’s technology to take advantage of the service,” Turner says. “That contrasts to the traditional approach of integration, where you have to have a technical person who understands both sides of the interface, how each application really works, in order to make that integration work effectively,” he says. Hinrichs says the change was much needed for his 15,700-member institution. “The front end of the Premier product had gotten to the point where it was woefully lacking, but the back end is really very solid and dynamic. Now we can concentrate more on the `wow’ factor, really making a difference to our members when they walk through our door in the way we can match up and deliver products and services they want and need,” he says. At West Community CU, teller functions were the first to be implemented using the new SOA tools, with cross-selling coming next, followed by a contact manager function, Hinrichs says. At IntegraSys, which serves about a thousand credit unions, “we really started down this path quite a while ago. And once we started, this philosophy was adopted across the entire enterprise, in all the products we’re developing,” Turner says. “Although these technologies do absolutely nothing to change the basic cooperative, member-friendly premise of a credit union, they will overwhelmingly impact how credit unions compete with other financial services firms,” he adds. That’s because using those tools allows credit unions to more personalize their service by integrating banking channels and making those channels easier to use with consistent interfaces, the IntegraSys CIO says. And it allows them to do this all quickly, using those standards of integration and connection. “For instance, we made a presentation to a prospect with a highly technical staff that does a lot of development on its own. They had a loan-origination system they would want to integrate into our core system,” Turner says. “So we explained how they could do that with our service-oriented architecture and invited them to give it a try. “Within an hour, literally, they took that loan system and booked a loan into our core system, and all they had was a working knowledge of Web services. They’re now a client.” -

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